Top Ten 'Am I Missing Something?' Foods
At the risk of looking like a rube, I'll admit it: I don’t get why truffles are such a big whoop.
I’d like to think it’s a case of truffle tastes, portobello budget. I’ve hardly had the chance to sample the fungal luxury, and when I have, it’s been in the form of a skimpily drizzled truffle oil.
But the problem may be a genetic quirk known as “specific anosmia.”
Some people lack the ability to smell certain odors. Quite a few cannot detect androstenone, the pheromone in truffles that makes epicures swoon like randy pigs.
That’s according to Charles J. Wysocki, a behavioral neuroscientist at Philadelphia’s Monell Chemical Senses Center.
“When a male pig encounters a female, if she’s in heat and he breathes into her nose and she smells this substance, she goes into mating posture,” Wysocki told me in an interview. “Farmers have made use of this, and you can go into any Agway shop and buy some [pheromonal] Boarmate in a can.”
The pheromone works more reliably on porcine subjects than human ones. Which is why not every gourmand assumes mating posture when presented with a plate of truffle risotto.
“Forty to 50 percent get absolutely nothing [from sniffing truffles],” Wysocki said. “Thirty-five percent smell it, and smell it as stale urine or sweat. Fifteen percent can detect … woody or floral [notes].”
I interviewed Wysocki months and months ago for a story on cilantro (more on that later). His comments came to mind this week as I reported news that Wegmans was selling black truffles for $400 a pound.Which brings me to this week’s list. Top Ten 'Am I Missing Something?' Foods:
No. 1: Truffles
No. 2: Cilantro
In the great love-it-or-hate-it cilantro divide, I'm with the herb's lovers. But cilantro is one of those foods that some people just don't get. Wysocki has theorized that specific anosmia is the reason that some insist cilantro tastes like soap, while the rest of us think they're nuts. He believes cilantro haters cannot detect the herb’s pleasing, aromatic notes, but do pick up on a soapy-smelling component that’s normally masked by the good stuff.
No. 3: Milk chocolate
Why ruin the world's most perfect food -- dark chocolate -- with the addition of milk?
No. 4: White chocolate
No. 5: Sea urchin sushi
It’s been 20 years since I’ve tried it, but I still recall thinking it tasted like Magic Markers.
No. 6: Blue cheese
Tasty mold to some, ammonia on a cracker to others.
No. 7: Cuy
I don't care if it "tastes just like guinea pig."
No. 8: Fish
I enjoy fish, but my husband can't believe anything that smells like that could taste good.
No. 9: Any food ordered through a speaker
I know most of America disagrees with me on this one. I'll concede two exceptions: Atwater's (which has a drive-thru in Towson) and Einstein Bros. Bagels.
No. 10: Chinese-farmed anything
All-you-can-eat shrimp scarfers will disagree, but once I read about it, I lost my appetite.
Do truffles taste as good as they look? That's what I'm afraid of. Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum